What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Pulls or Sets Back in Hand or when Tied


Refusal to be tied by pulling or setting back is a dangerous habit that needs to be resolved. It usually originates from a lack of respect for or understanding of pressure and release on the halter or on the body in general. Any horse that sets back has not been properly halter trained and is also potentially dangerous to ride. It is a similar behavior to rearing.

Horses and their handlers can be severely injured by a horse that sets back. Horses that set back usually also rear and could flip over backwards and land on their back, neck and head, causing potentially fatal injury. Once a horse breaks a lead rope and gets a release from this, they can be expected to do it again, with more enthusiasm and determination.

Horses have a natural escape response that includes violent withdrawal. In proper ground and halter training, this response is replaced by a yield to pressure. Horses may also be taught this behavior in the same way that they are taught to engage in many other unwanted behaviors. They perceive the behavior to be easier and more rewarding than alternative (desirable) behaviors. Rarely is this behavior caused by a physical problem. However, your vet can help you determine whether a physical ailment plays a role.

  • Code Green

    Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources
    • Some vets have valuable advice regarding behavioral and training issues.

your role


What To Do

If a physical cause is ruled out, look to yourself and others who have handled your horse as both the cause of the problem and the solution. Good horsemanship, and a return to the basics of ground training goes a long way toward dealing with this problem. In this case, the horse has gotten a release in the past when they have set back. That response to pressure on the poll or nose band was easier than yielding to pressure. The solution to the problem is reversing this "equation" so that it is easier to yield than set back.

This may be easier said than done if you are not experienced in managing this sort of thing. Engage a trainer who knows how to address this behavior. Your vet may also have some suggestions for managing or resolving this behavior. There are a great many devices that claim to "fix" this problem. While certain of these products have some value, none in themselves are an appropriate solution if the underlying training deficiency is not addressed.

What Not To Do

Do not accept this behavior as normal or acceptable.
Do not believe anyone who says this can be solved with the use of "devices." This is a training problem, and proper training is the solution.

your vet's role

Your vet treats the (sometimes life-threatening) injuries that are caused when horses are not trained to tie. They may recommend a trainer or some techniques to deal with the problem.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Do you have a relationship with a qualified trainer who can help you?
  • Did your horse stand tied well before?
  • Was there an incident that seemed to relate to the start of the behavior?

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP